Console Curry

Published Date
01 - Jun - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2007
 
Console Curry
Perhaps we're living in one of those Golden Ages they keep talking about. Over two short years, we've witnessed the launches of three high-profile consoles, each of which promises to change the world of gaming forever. The Xbox 360 has its cult online following, the PlayStation 3 has its horrifyingly advanced hardware, and the Wii has fun on its side... which one's going to outlast the rest?

Does it even matter? For our opinion on the subject, pick up last month's issue and flip to Ultimate Gaming Champion. The Wii will usher in a whole new era of innovation, but might take a hit with people looking for high definition graphics and sound. Overall, we should see around four or five years of the current next-gen consoles before it occurs to someone to kill the competition with the generation beyond that.

And Then...
It almost hurts the brain to try and conceive of a console beyond what we already have-both the Xbox 360 and PS3 are formidable machines that are still to show their full potential-but (now former) Sony CEO Ken Kutaragi has already cooked up plans for the PlayStations 4, 5 and 6, though he's not telling anyone what those plans are.

As early as 2004, Sony researchers had built a vision for the console of the future. Controllers and button-mashing will become a thing of the past-your console will watch your body's movements, facial expressions and even listen to your voice to interpret special voice commands. The head-mounted display idea rears its head here, too, and games will be beamed right to our retinas. Who knows, the console itself may mobile-your own little R2D2, which will follow you around your house, and hopefully save you from jumping off your balcony when you get too lost in your display.

There will be all-pervasive wireless broadband, and maybe you'll play your game on a "virtual console" that exists only online-so you can wander around with your head-mounted display and play your game from anywhere.

Feet On The Ground
Dreams spewed by research groups are all very well, but we want more concrete information, don't we? We do know that the Xbox 360's successor is under development already-Microsoft EMEA Vice President Chris Lewis told UK games site Kiziko, "You can't sit back on your laurels in this business-the consumer won't let you, the developers certainly won't let us." They've even formed a computer architecture group, which will be working on some heavily customised hardware, if not designing the hardware itself. Microsoft's patent application suggests that the next Xbox (the neXtBox?) will act as a single hub, which will also interact with your Zune, Windows Mobile device and any other Microsoft gadget that it finds in its vicinity.

An HD-toting, movie-playing Wii successoris in the works too

News from the Sony camp is that we might see a PlayStation 4 as early as 2010! The new console will feature similar gaming hardware, but will be more tuned towards eliminating the need for a media centre completely. In regards to the online console idea, Kutaragi says, "The design concept of the Cell processor is the network processor. When the PS3 was introduced last year, the network environment was not ready for a net-based game console. Now it has become possible, so why not enter?"

An HD-toting, movie-playing Wii successor is in the works too (it had to be). It will come with a much-needed hard drive to store video and other media, and perhaps even eliminate one of the more harebrained flaws in the console-the lack of an Ethernet port!

But will you ride this console wave?

India And The Console
According to a report by the NPD Group, in April this year, the Xbox 360 sold around 174,000 units in North America, and the PS3 sold 82,000. In India, selling even 174 would probably qualify as a good month. In all honesty, none of India's gaming numbers could come even close to those for the US or Europe-gaming in general is still a very new concept to India. Our parents still can't figure out why we'd want to blow up as much as Rs 40,000 (PS3) for something that "just plays games." Your PC plays games, they'll say-use that.

It's sad that India isn't thought of too much in the matter of consoles. Xbox Live-integral to the 360 experience-hasn't officially launched for India yet, and you won't be able to access paid content on the PlayStation Network either. We're still a growing name in the PC gaming arena; it'll be a while yet before we're taken seriously in the console department. Jesse Rapczak, Vice President, Production at the Noida-based Exigent Studios has a vision: In an interview with Flame War Advance, he says: "The real question is, what's going to happen to consoles when India and China become world powers in gaming? Because, the console market is strictly geared at U.S., Europe and Japan... The numbers say that console gaming is going to go down. And PC, online and mobile gaming is on the rise, and all this will happen in India and China over the next five years. Come 2010, some people might not be playing game consoles."

India affecting the future of the console? Powerful thought, that.
Immersed In An Alternative Reality

The future of games and other stories
The gaming industry works very closely with the graphics card industry, in fact, drives it. The latest games strain current-generation hardware and force new products from GPU manufacturers. The same way, these manufacturers are facilitators for the gaming industry.

Computer games are getting closer and closer to the real thing, and we feel this is a good thing. People want to escape from reality, and that escapism is the number one reason for indulging in gaming. But gamers want realism, whether it's weather effects, facial expressions, explosions, physics, shadows, and terrain deformation. Then there's all the realism demanded by first person shooter lovers revolving around realistic weapon models and effects-flaming gun barrels, screaming ricochets, realistic body damage and gore effects etc.

A contradiction? The simple fact is that games give you a chance to live out an alternative personality without fear of consequences. You can be a warrior, a spy, a pilot, a playboy, an assassin or even a cricketer, all within the safe confines of your home. You're in control of your life-basically something every individual craves, but doesn't necessarily get.

Perhaps the best shot in the arm for realism in games is DX 10. In fact one of the biggest reasons for gamers to shift to Windows Vista is the upcoming DX 10 games. The current generation of graphics hardware is also up to the task, and we're already seeing three times the rendering power from previous generation cards, NVIDIA's 8800GTX (128 shader units) and the ATi X2900 series (320 shader processors) promise to bring lifelike realism in games.

 


Another aspect of realism is AI. Several titles today like F.E.A.R. and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. feature good AI models, which make for a believable gaming experience as characters in the game world react more realistically to your actions as a character. AI is not limited to games of the first person genre. A good example would be Company of Heroes, a gorgeous looking RTS (Real Time Strategy) game based on the World War II scenario. Enemy AI is challenging, with enemy squads actually trying to flank you, throwing grenades, calling for artillery support and so on.

Work in progress should see games featuring characters that actually populate a game world, and go about their activities independent of interaction with your character-this is one aspect of realism where most games trip up! In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (a realistic first person shooter), packs of mutant dogs will roam around, not necessarily attacking you just because you're well armed. Drop your AK-74 and you're toast! Similarly, rival stalkers will back away from a firefight they're losing, only to regroup and follow you looking for an ambush opportunity.

Upcoming games like Crysis and Bioshock promise even more immersive action. Non-linear storylines, lifelike realism, and ferocious enemy AI, along with a deep storyline that promises to engross as no movie ever can. Further down the game release path there are psychological thrillers like Alan Wake that promise to leave the hair on your nape standing and your psyche on edge. Let's take a look at BioShock, the dubbed the spiritual successor to System Shock-one of the earlier games that brought terms like "atmospheric" and "immersive" to games.

Work in progress should see games featuring charactersthat actually populate a game world, and go about theiractivities independent of interaction with your character

BioShock takes you to the city of Rapture-a deserted futuristic city built on the bottom of the bottom of the sea and isolated from it by a massive dome like shell-basically a scientific experiment gone wrong.

What we've seen of gameplay demos showcase extremely realistic visuals and sound-this game will involve you with sheer attention to detail. Your character will move thorough a slowly deteriorating world, where water seeps in through cracks in the outer shell as the sea tries to reclaim what was it's. This world under water world is brought to life with life-like textures, HDR and bloom, not to mention eerie sounds like a radio playing in an abandoned bar, or the creak of a rusty hinge somewhere upstairs.

A little background information… BioShock has these little girls (called little sisters) who harvest adam, which is pricelessly valuable and the only thing you use to upgrade your looks, physical and combat skills, and your 50-odd powers, including telekinesis, or something much more weird like shooting a bunch of wasps out of your hands to be used as projectiles! Now these little sisters are defenseless, but protected fiercely by big daddies, one of the toughest entities in the game.

The combat in this game will also be very realistic, not to mention absolutely open-ended… This snippet of gameplay was showcased in a recently released video-in a fight with a big daddy to obtain adam from little sister, your character could use regular combat means (guns). Of course big daddies can take all you've got and then some…

After taking a pounding, the character decides to use some Splicer Irritant, a foul-smelling chemical produced courtesy your genetic enhancements. As the name suggests, this substance causes Splicers to go crazy and attack it. Splicers are genetically-mutated humans that constantly alter their genetic structures, and they're hostile.

One attraction of multiplayer online games is the communityit creates. Most communities these days are a very close-knit
bunch, living and breathing the game titles that created them

Your character throws the Splicer Irritant on Big Daddy-Splicer jumps in to attack. You happen to cross a security camera while taking potshots at Big Daddy, and a mess of security bots spill out of nowhere to take you out. You run to the nearest security console, and using adam and your genetic enhancements program, set the bots to attack Big Daddy.

You then shoot a propane tank and using telekinesis and Jedi Mind Trick powers, and divert this flow of propane on to Big daddy and then use a genetically-produced fireball to incinerate him, all the while pumping lead into him. Finally the beast goes down. The best part is the totally interactive environment means the next time you could do something totally different for the same result. If you had not gotten close to Little Sister, the above events wouldn't have happened. This makes BioShock totally autonomous-characters in the game world don't revolve around you, they're living their own life, doing their own thing!

Time Shift, due this Christmas, is a first person shooter with one twist-it allows you to fiddle with time. Imagine yourself pinned by enemy fire from atop a roof. You shoot at the walls behind which the enemy is hiding, causing a chunk of concrete to fall off the roof (the environment's destructible). You now sprint to this fallen chunk, climb on to it, and reverse time: voila, you're atop the roof as the chunk travels back up (reverse time) with you on it. This kind of gameplay is an evolution, made possible mainly due to advancements in allied technologies.

The biggest thing these past two years has undoubtedly been MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). Although this (rather large) name is synonymous with World of Warcraft to many, they are many other MMORPGs floating around-Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest 2, and Eve Online, to name a few.

Thousands of players from all over the world control game characters that populate these vast game worlds. These types of games are more involving for some as you play with and against other human opponents instead of an AI system. The actual attraction of such role playing games is that they allow an alternative space (the virtual online space) to develop relationships. Consider this-many online games allow players to get friendly, purchase property, manage finances, and even get married and raise children. Divorce is also a possibility! Go to office, hang out at your favourite pub, and play golf on weekends…

These games are giving gamers the world over an opportunity to escape from reality and live life the way they always wanted to, but never dared.

Another attraction of multiplayer online games is the community it creates. Most communities these days are a very close-knit bunch, living and breathing the game titles that created them. For example, World of Warcraft has communities of players that synchronise time around the world so that they can logon to the game and play at the same time. Die-hard fans of a particular game often create their own communities which have a strong online presence (homepages, concept art, gameplay tips, scores, member information, and fan kits, among others).

There are offline games for those who don't have fast connections, and for the working class who doesn't get a regular period every day to login and play. The Sims would be a good example. However, offline games are a trend that seems to be on the decline, and statistics show that 62 per cent of gamers worldwide prefer to game online rather than offline. In India this number is still low mainly due to poor penetration of both games and broadband.

Whether online or offline, whether single player or multiplayer-gaming has taken off and become a favourite pastime for people of all ages. As any pastime matures, a person looks for more involvement with it, to go a level deeper so as to further hold his or her interest. If this doesn't happen, one finds a new pastime. Thankfully there's a multi-billion dollar gaming industry coupled with an even more resourceful hardware industry that are working hard to ensure that day is postponed infinitely.

Games have moved from a pastime and become a way of life to many, and a means of living to some (read professional gamers). DirectX 10 and Vista will just be one of the scenes we visit on our journey.

Play Different

Will it be innovation or formula for us?
It's all been done, you might say. We've seen enough game genres, sub-genres and styles to make us dizzy. Yet so many games are just variations or corruptions of the same old successful formulae-all first-person shooters after Half-Life featured in-game cinematic effects, for instance. Of course, we've seen a lot of new and innovative games since, but the scenario is a little bleak today-rarely do we come across games that light our fires, so to speak.

It's a fiercely competitive industry, this. Add to that the costs-both in time and money-of making a new game, and you've got game studios struggling to make profits. Naturally, sticking to formula is the surest way to success. But there's hope.

The Quest For Newness
We've probably done a Wii overdose here, but not without reason. Even in the unlikely event that the Wii vanishes from consciousness in a couple of years, it will have left us with a taste of what it's like to break away from the keyboard mouse / game controller for interacting with our games-and have us yearning for different, even bizarre, game styles.

 

And then there's mobility. Mobile games are getting increasingly popular, especially in India and China, and while they won't find much acceptance with hardcore gamers, they will increase the number of casual gamers in the country. When you've got only tiny screens to work with, you tend to focus on making your games fun-small screens don't show off pretty graphics-and the more game developers focus on fun, the more people they'll reel in.

The Upcoming
It seems that the future belongs to the role-playing game (RPG). The genre has grown around 42 per cent in the last year, and promises to continue along those lines. Not much mystery there-we're sick of linear games that take us in a scripted direction every time, and RPGs offer us freedom to modify our characters, skills, and to some extent, even the story of the game. The trend will be towards more open-ended games that you can play over and over again, using a different approach each time.

Overlord, where you play an evil magician on a quest for power, will feature an army of your very own minions, whom you can send into battle against some pesky Halflings, sheep and other such unsuspecting, goodly creatures. The game promises to be as adaptive and engaging as Black and White, and may have the same refreshing impact on us.

Another ambitious title is Splinter Cell: Conviction. Picking up where Double Agent left off, Conviction will have you interacting with the environment like never before. You might be able to use a table to shield yourself from enemy fire, for instance, and even break off a leg to use as a club. Developer Ubisoft Montreal wants you to improvise at every step, now that Sam Fisher is a fugitive and doesn't have all his spy gear to help him out.

PCs and consoles aren't the only ones that will benefit, though.

Gaming Everywhere
With the success of the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, we'll be seeing a whole new generation of games for these handheld consoles. Many will evoke nostalgia-imagine playing your favourite old PlayStation games on your PSP, for example. Because the comparatively small screens aren't conducive to long hours of gaming, we'll see more games that offer bite-sized chunks of instant gratification rather than the long, expansive games that we see on PCs and consoles.

Gaming on the go is here to stay, but serious gaming won't go all the way to the mobile phone-specialised devices will always be preferable to all-in-ones, so unless the world likes the idea of a phone the size of a PSP, we'll be buying handheld consoles for our long journeys.




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